Flux Clinic: Experiments in Measurement (2009)

Written, Directed & Documented by Jessica Foley. 

Supported by thisisnotashop and The Market Studios, Dublin, Ireland.

FluxStamp

This ‘Clinic’ began with notes sent from FLUXUS artist Larry Miller – these were the blueprints – a story of a story retold. The possibility of copying was eliminated – this was interpretation – this was finding an artifact, a document (notes by Larry based upon the Hi Red Center’s Flux Clinic from 1966) and using it to tell another tale, or to tell a tale in another way…as Larry says:

Part of FLUXUS ‘ideology’ is that events are interpreted differently, added to, updated, amplified upon, etc. when done in various venues. That is part of the power of resilience of the body of all FLUXUS work – that it is a kind of ‘Darwinian Evolution’ in a way that keeps it alive. It survives because of it’s adaptability to new circumstances and because it remains ‘useful’…

The starting point for the Clinic was measurement…thinking about how value systems based upon measurement, measuring up, fitting the bill so-to-speak, are orchestrated, arranged and brought into the status quo of things. What does it take to build a system? Who do you need to do it? What do you need to put in place?

 

The process of setting up the Clinic became a grand experiment in system building – scripting and installing and operating a system for four hours on one day in May 2009. The experiment was done in an effort to perhaps understand more how systems function and how we operate within them.

Building the system of the Clinic required a large team of contributors – essentially a generous and voluntary staff who came forward to try on the roles and fill-out the Clinic’s system. The system became diversified by virtue of its multiple participants – the Patient/Visitors as important as the Staff/Performers – no system can work without some form of participation, some form of compliance, whether conscious or otherwise. This experimental system, this regulative fiction was built upon many parts – parts which involved role-play – each role separate and distinct, yet inter-related. Each player was dedicated to their own role, and this dedication became the scaffold for the system…

Flux Clinic was only made possible by the creative voluntary participation and contribution of Aidan O’Donovan, Nina Sigurd, Jessamyn Fiore, Maura Foley, Áine Ivers, Francis Fay, Alan James Burns, Seodín O’Sullivan, Talia Moscovitz, Daithí O héignigh, Patricia McKenna and Kalen Leo, and with the generous support of thisisnotashop and The Market Studios. Special thanks are due to Elaine Gleeson and her first class pupils (2009) at the Balbriggan Educate Together School for completing the look of the Clinic with their prints and stories on measurement.

Flux Clinic prints made by Balbriggan Education Together pupils.
Flux Clinic prints made by Balbriggan Education Together pupils.

VIDEO DOCUMENTATION

[Above: A web-cam view of the Flux Clinic in action, May 2009.]

ESSAY
Experiments in Measurement – A REGULATIVE FICTION

In Science, convictions have no citizens’ rights, so people say with good reason: only when they decide to descend to the modest level of hypothesis, of provisional experimental standpoint, of a regulative fiction, can they be allowed the right of entry and indeed certain value within the realm of knowledge, – albeit with the proviso that they remain under police supervision, the police of mistrust.

The Gay Science, Friedrich Nietzsche

This ‘Clinic’ began with notes sent from artist Larry Miller – these were the blueprints – a story of a story retold. The possibility of copying was eliminated – this was interpretation – this was finding an artifact, a document and using it to tell another tale, or to tell a tale in another way…as Larry says:

Part of FLUXUS ‘ideology’ is that events are interpreted differently, added to, updated, amplified upon, etc. when done in various venues. That is part of the power of resilience of the body of all FLUXUS work – that it is a kind of ‘Darwinian Evolution’ in a way that keeps it alive. It survives because of it’s adaptability to new circumstances and because it remains ‘useful’…

The starting point was measurement…thinking about how value systems based upon measurement, measuring up, fitting the bill so-to-speak, are orchestrated, arranged and brought into the status quo of things. What does it take to build a system? Who do you need to do it? What do you need to put in place? The process of setting up the Clinic became a grand experiment in system building – scripting & installing & operating a system for 4 hours on one day in May 2009 – and the experiment was done in an effort to perhaps understand more how systems function and  how we operate within them. Building the this system of the Clinic required a large team of contributors – essentially a generous & voluntary staff who came forward to try on the roles and fill-out the Clinic’s system. The system became diversified by virtue of its multiple participants – the Patient/Visitors as important as the Staff/Performers – no system can work without some form of participation, some form of compliance, whether conscious or otherwise. This experimental system, this regulative fiction was built upon many parts – parts which involved role-play – each role separate & distinct. Each player was dedicated to their own role, and this dedication became the scaffold for the system – one part supporting the other however unconsciously – the parts fragmented yet unified, in no particular order, were as follows:

[…The tea & coffee servers in the Lobby, The Receptionist, The Clinicians, The Consultant, The Patient Care Official, The Discharge Official, The Bureaucrats, and of course the Patients…]

The young School goers responses, their prints & drawings, adorning the walls of the clinic – interpretations of a short story about a man, Mr. Fogpatches, who digs holes for a living & who has no sense of wonder…The Teacher’s interpretation of the artists tentative intentions as she draws out the next step with her pupils; the possibilities of measurement, what can be measured, digging deep and revealing the arbitrary nature of these units of measurement – arbitrary yet honed & sophisticated – becoming indispensable, a priori almost, as if in place before time or anything else has shuffled on.

The Clinicians – contained behind their stations – their unknowing of each others roles or responsibilities – their blind faith – their reliance upon the frame of it – as the system takes hold, as it takes over, as the kinesthetics of it eliminate doubt & allow for personal interpretation & improvisation within it’s structures – from within the confines they step out – between the grids shoulder room is grafted, and some begin to play.

The Higher Order – the ‘elite’ – the white coat authorities – their air of calm & objectivity – the sense of ‘all-knowing-ness’ which they seem to ooze from their pores…their roles cloaked in mystery…or perhaps in nothing, and that is the mystery. They elicit wonder & sometimes fear, sometimes nervousness from those in their jurisdiction. They always have the choice to walk away, to ignore, to shroud. They are the higher strata – that is their prerogative.

The Bureaucrats – the paper pushers – the most important and least valued they would say – those with the organizational gears to keep the great machinic system in motion – one false move & it chugs to a standstill – the pressure is on here – they are stressed & grey haired & anxious & defiant – they believe in themselves and yet doubt every fiber of the world. They are in denial – because they run the system – they can see its skeleton & so can see the broken reality – for them, their most important job is denial – upholding a pretence & valuing the system above all else, above anyone, above themselves. This is the realm of the sycophant and the innately depressed.

The Receptionist – smiling – confidant that when the hour strikes she is free to go and enjoy the sunshine – she hands out the pens & the jelly & requests signatures – she explains the steps, how to fill out the forms, the patients trust her – she is reassuring – she reads Roald Dahl and wears clothes in rainbow colours. She is calm. The clock ticks on. The music plays on. She listens to Harry Belafonte – he takes her away to beaches & sundrenched utopias.

Downstairs the patients wait – they hear the music – they drink the coffee & tea provided – they read the magazines that are laid out on the small white box tables. Their children play with the wooden hand carved duck-on-wheels and the colourful building blocks. They are waiting but the sun is shining and the coffee is good and upstairs there is a promise of something different – beyond the wafts of music & the shuffles of white coats, a quiet busyness vibrating downwards on the warm dust speckled air.

This was indeed some kind of grand experiment…an experiment in system building disguised as an experiment in measurement disguised as a take on the interplay between science and art – but more so it was an experiment in the roles that we play & are willing to play – the way in which we improvise & adapt within systems, or don’t – the way we can fit ourselves into situations and role play, sometimes with ease, sometimes with force – the way we can become assimilated by the systems we create – the way we can become absorbed, saturated, and gradually unknowing – the way we are always and never at play – the way extremes can eliminate nuance and the tones and subtleties of life.

Perhaps this Clinic was an exercise in a regulative fiction: exploring the idea that sometimes we must get inside a system to agitate it, to know it – we must crawl into these roles to usurp them – despite the danger of appropriation and assimilation. The challenge lies in the effort it takes to remain vigilant to those supposed lines and boundaries between reality and fiction, to remain conscious. By taking on a role demanded by a system, by following a script, whether explicit or implicit, we can sometimes forget our own agency…or perhaps this can make us more acutely aware of the moments when we abdicate our own agency and action for the sake of the system…

One ‘patient’ simply left – walked away – he could not abide the Queuing. Another ‘patient’ had a battle in her head – it raged in her as she waited in line – she felt determined to tear the system down – but when she saw the white suited clinicians and their seamless, systematic processes, their tools and their method, she could not bear to shatter the peace. She complied and proceeded, station by station through the Clinic until her file became stamped and approved. And on the way out she was told to avoid green – Advised against her favourite colour she stormed away – offered a choice on the way out by the colourful receptionist – Jelly in a Petri Dish… “Red or Green?”

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Flux Clinic reception at The Market Studios, staffed by ‘Shannon’ (2009)

June 2009 Jessica Foley